Twelve fire departments responded to a Friday night blaze in the De Soto area that destroyed a century-old home that was being painstakingly restored, says Tom Fitzgerald, assistant chief of the De Soto Rural Fire Protection District.
Volunteer De Soto Rural firefighter Rob Lang of De Soto was transported by Valle Ambulance to Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Crystal City for heat exhaustion and dehydration, Fitzgerald said.
“He’s OK,” Fitzgerald said Monday. “I believe everyone else was fine. It was hot and humid, and lots of work.”
Fitzgerald said a husband and wife, the McCulloughs, returned home on Friday night and found the fire under way at their farmstead home, 13805 Hwy. E. No one was inside the house. They called De Soto Rural at about 10 p.m.
Firefighters were on the scene until about 4 a.m. Saturday, Fitzgerald said. The home was totaled, he said.
“There’s a shell there, but it’s pretty well destroyed,” he said.
Fitzgerald said the family has been working to restore the property.
“It’s an old, old house, in excess of 100 years old, that they’ve been remodeling, rehabbing. It was pristine,” he said.
But fires at old houses are particularly hard to battle, he said.
“It’s the type of construction – it’s called ‘balloon frame.’ You can see from the basement all the way up to the attic. There are no stops, and it’s really not good for fire control.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation, Fitzgerald said, but he added, “We believe it was electrical and started in the basement.”
He said the homeowners saw heavy, black smoke coming from the roof area when they arrived at the house.
“The fire had already spread to the attic,” he said.
De Soto Rural desperately needed water to fight the fire, Fitzgerald said, and called in fire departments across the area for extra water-loaded tankers.
“We cover 260 square miles and only 4 percent of our district has hydrants,” Fitzgerald said. The McCullough farm had no hydrant or water source like a pond or lake to pull water from.
In addition to De Soto Rural, fire departments or districts at the scene included De Soto City, Festus, Mapaville, Potosi, Hematite, Goldman, Cedar Hill, Big River, Antonia, Jefferson R-7 and Hillsboro.
“I think that’s everyone,” Fitzgerald said. “Other companies did move-ups (to cover firehouses for districts at the scene).”
“We hade 11 trucks shuttling water to match the flow that was needed to fight the fire.”
Extra manpower was needed, too, he said.
“It took 45 minutes to contain the bulk of the fire, but we had to chase hot spots all around that house for the rest of the night.”
Fitzgerald said that type of construction creates “voids that are totally open.”
“The fire just travels.”
The interior of the home became dangerous quickly.
“The structural integrity (of the home) was compromised in some areas, and it was not safe to put firefighters in there,” he said. “We had to cut open walls (from the exterior) to get at the fire.”
Fitzgerald said the night was challenging, to say the least.
“It was tough,” he said. “No matter how you cut it, any fire that is not detected immediately is not good, but century-old homes just present that extra hazard.
“Everybody there worked their tails off. We did everything we could do, but it just wasn’t enough.”
– Peggy Bess